Parà

 

 

A dream given by God which is at the roots of the Pentecostal Movement in Brazil

 

The origin of the Assembléias de Deus in Brazil is indissolubly bound up with the life of the simple Swedish workers Daniel Berg and Gunnar Vingren.

Berg was born in Southern Sweden in 1885 or 1884, baptized in a Swedish Baptist community in 1899, and emigrated to the USA in 1902. In 1909 he was on a visit to Sweden where a friend, who meanwhile had become a preacher, told him about the baptism of the Spirit which he experienced in the same year. On his return to the United States he joined W. H. Durham’s congregation in Chicago. His friend Vingren was shown in a dream that the two of them were to go as missionaries to Parà. They did not know where Parà was, but they discovered from the City Library in Chicago that it was a state in Brazil. They saved $90 for their fare, but had to give it to a Pentecostal newspaper as the result of a revelation. Shortly afterwards, however, they again got enough money for their fares.

They came to Bélem in 1910. Berg earned his living as a foundry man in a steel works and while doing so learned Portuguese. Originally they had little success with their missionary work within the Baptist congregation of Belém. They held prayer meetings in the cellar of the Baptist chapel and waited for a revival in Brazil. When some of the Baptists began to speak in tongues, experienced the baptism of the Spirit and soon carried out missionary work with fiery zeal in their neighbourhood, the Baptist preacher of Belém found himself compelled to intervene.

In what follows I shall compare Berg’s account with that of the Baptist preacher of Belém:

‘One evening the local preacher appeared in our simple premises. When he opened the door, a wave of song and prayers struck him. We got up and invited him to take part in our improvised service. He refused and declared that it was now time to make a decision. He said that a short time before he had discovered that people had dared to engage in a discussion of doctrine [1], something that had never happened before. He accused us of sowing doubt and unrest and of being separatists. Gunnar Vingren got up and declared that we did not desire any division. On the contrary, we wanted unity among everyone. If only everyone had the experience of the baptism of the Spirit, we would never be divided. On the contrary, we would then be more than brothers, like a family.

The local preacher spoke again. The discussion was open. He said that the Bible did indeed speak about the baptism of the Spirit and also said that Jesus healed the sick. But that was in those days. He said that it would be absurd if educated people of our time believed that such things could happen today. We had to be realistic – he continued – and not waste time with dreams and false prophecies. Nowadays we had knowledge to know what to do with it. ‘If you do not mend your ways and recognize your error, it is my duty to inform all the Baptist congregations and to warn them about your false doctrine’.

Vingren listened to these words very quietly and then replied: ‘Brothers, we should not allow themes as important as those we have discussed to be lost in a personal dispute. We are both servants of God and so we both want to stand in the truth, for he to whom we pray is the truth. In my view we are colleagues and not competitors. Who brings souls to God is a matter of secondary importance. What is important is the fact that more and more souls are saved. I would not want to say that the brother does not stand in the truth but that he has not found the whole truth. [He does not have] the truth of the baptism of the Spirit and the healing of the sick by Jesus, as we can experience them today’.

When Vingren had finished, the preacher looked round at all those present in the hope that someone would support him. But no one did so. Then he looked pointedly at a deacon and waited for his judgment on the question. This deacon, one of the oldest pillars in the church, stood up after he had been looked at in this way and remarked in the name of all those present: ‘I can understand your feelings very well, pastor. You say that you have come into a group of traitors who have departed from your teaching. You think that we are not following the way you have shown us. But that is not true. We have never been so certain our of cause as we are now. We have never had as much faith as we have now. We have found even more: faith and power of the Holy Spirit’.

‘We do not hold it against you that you did not say these things to us, for you did not know them yourself and so you could not teach them. But we very much want you also to receive these blessings from God. Then we shall understand each other better and feel the same unity with the brothers who have come to us from abroad.

‘All the members of this church, pastor, are now on ‘higher ground’ and nearer to heaven. You yourself said that you wanted to be a realist. Very good, I will give you some instances of realities of the healing power of Jesus in our days: these sisters, who have belonged to our congregation for years, used to have to walk on crutches (perhaps you never even noticed). Now they no longer need them. The crutches hang on the wall of their house, visible to everyone, so that all can see the wonderful way in which Jesus has healed them. And Jesus has healed not only them, but also a tumour on the throat. ‘Dear preacher’, the deacon continued, ‘we cannot and will not accuse you. You have worked to win souls for Jesus. You have asked Jesus for strength to stand fast in sickness. But you have not prayed for healing from sickness, because you did not believe in that. Now you have seen with your own eyes the instances which I have mentioned.’

Hoping for an expression in his support, the preacher let his eyes sweep round the room. In vain. He turned to me and brother Vingren and said, ‘I have come to a decision. From now on you may not meet here any longer. Look for another place. After what has happened here we no longer want you’. Then he turned to the small group of people and asked: ‘How many of you are in agreement with the false teaching?’ Eighteen people resolutely raised their hands. They knew that that meant their expulsion from the church.

We thanked the preacher for the common life (that lay behind us) and hoped that he would soon receive the blessing of the baptism of the Spirit. He did not reply, but turned his back on us and walked out ….

(The account then goes on to tell the move into the house of one of the group, where ‘the first Pentecostal service in Brazil was officially celebrated’) [2].

The Baptist author de Mesquita reports the matter as follows: ‘In April 1911, two Swedish missionaries, Gunnar Vingren and Daniel Berg, landed in Bélem. They called themselves Baptists … They immediately went to Nelson, their fellow-countryman, to find shelter with him. They were offered the cellar of the church; they put up there and learnt the language in order to be able to help Nelson in the work of evangelization. The good missionary [Nelson] then made one of his numerous journeys into the state of Piaui and left these two behind in the church, in the sweet hope that even though they could not speak [Portuguese], they would be able to continue the work. After a short while, however, these (so-called) Baptists began to quiver and shriek in a meeting. Soon Brazilians imitated them. What had happened? What kind of a new religion was this, people asked. They replied that it was the baptism of the Spirit. The speaking with tongues and the cackling made the services frightful. Nelson was away, and the work of the congregation was under the supervision of a young man without any experience …. The whole church was infected, because so many people were already talking in this so-called speaking with tongues, with the exception of the deacons, whom this development did not escape. The evangelist called a meeting of the congregation with the help of the organist, declared the Pentecostals, who were already in the majority, to be outside the order and with the help (of the minority who had remained Baptists) excommunicated those who had falsified sound doctrine. The latter attempted to assert their rights as the majority, but they were excluded. In this way the congregation was decimated …. That was the beginning of the Pentecostal movement in Brazil’ [3]

 

Notes

 

[1] D. Berg, Enviado, p. 37

[2] D. Berg, Enviado, pp. 37-41. Cf. too I. Vingren, Pionjarens dagbok.

[3] A. N. de Mesquita, Historia II, pp. 136f.

 

From: Walter J. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals, SCM Press Ltd, Printed in Great Britain, 1972, pages. 75-77

 

 

Index